Luftwaffe Firestorms

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by wiking85, Dec 6, 2012.

  1. wiking85

    wiking85 Well-Known Member

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    Firestorm - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Historically the Luftwaffe firebombed a great number of British cities:
    The Blitz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Some of the bombings had greater effect than others:
    Second Great Fire of London - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Coventry Blitz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Even with the major fires that were created, especially in London, none truly qualified as a firestorm the way Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, or Hiroshima did. As Arthur Harris noted above the Luftwaffe missed opportunity after opportunity to literally burn British cities to the ground, though it should be noted that the Luftwaffe was innovating these tactics and were still learning how to bomb a city, while the RAF later exploited the lessons they were taught on the receiving end.
    Coventry Blitz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Still the Luftwaffe had limitations that the RAF later did not have:
    Coventry Blitz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Hypothetically speaking could the Luftwaffe have achieved a true firestorm in Britain? I've been told that British cities are built with less wood, so aren't able to combust as easily as continental European cities, though it seems in Hamburg that the coal in the basements of buildings were a major reason that that city was able to combust so well along with the dry conditions and 4 days of continuous allied bombardment dropping something like 3000+ tons per raid, while the Luftwaffe didn't manage even 1000 tons in a single raid during the Blitz.

    Perhaps if the Luftwaffe had a strategic bomber Geschwader capable of carrying 4000kg of large ordnance like the blockbuster bombs the RAF used (the Luftwaffe only had small 1000kg blockbusters, rather than the 1800kg and up bombs the RAF used) to open up buildings on a large scale to follow up firebombs?

    If say there were Ju89s carrying 4000kg bombs with 70% explosive filling by weight as blockbusters and then concentrated bomber streams like those used over London on the night of the Second Great Fire with 600 or so medium bombers to drop mixed HE and incendiaries, could there have been a true firestorm as Arthur Harris suggested?
    It seems the conditions on the night of December 29-30 in London, so weather-wise it was doable provided the right tools were used in the right concentration.
     
  2. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    It was doable.
    There is plenty of wood in typical British houses. Bombing a city you would be bombing largely rows of terraced houses whose slate roofs are supported by an entirely wooden structure,often with tar paper insulation,all of which burn nicely. Once you get the place alight the skirting,dados,doors,door/window frames and even the lathe in the plaster and lathe in the ceilings should go up nicely along with the furnishings.
    You need to get your incendiaries into the roof spaces,that's why the RAF bropped blast bombs (Cookies) to blow in the tiles and windows.
    The British at the time tended to store coal as domestic fuel in coal bunkers,not always in a cellar,but it would still burn.
    Brick walls don't stand up to blast very well either.

    Cheers
    Steve
     
  3. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #3 stona, May 7, 2014
    Last edited: May 7, 2014
    It was the Germans who initially developed the idea of causing massive conflagrations in target cities from the air. Burning cities down was hardly a new idea, it was just the means of delivery that was novel. The RAF, still nominally concentrating on specific targets whilst missing them by a large margin in 1940 carried mainly high explosive ordnance in its bomb bays. The Germans did not.

    As early as September 11th 1940 Goebbels wrote in his diary.

    "The reports from London are horrendous. An inferno of unimaginable extent. The city is coming to resemble a hell. It is already possible to discern small indications of deteriorating morale. How long will this city of 8 million people hold out? We have no examples we can judge by.....the question is: can London be brought to its knees in this way? I would assume, yes. But we must wait thigs out and attack, attack."

    Speer quotes Hitler slightly later that year saying.

    "Have you ever looked at a map of London? It is so closely built up that one source of fire alone would suffice to destroy the whole city...........Goering wants to use innumerable incendiary bombs of an altogether new type to create sources of fires in all parts of London."

    A certain Arthur Harris watched the attempt from the roof of the Air Ministry.

    "The blitz seemed to me a fantastic sight and I went downstairs and fetched Portal up from his office to have a look at it........Having in mind what was being done at that time to produce heavy bombers in Britain I said out loud as we turned away from the scene: 'Well, they are sowing the wind.' Portal also made some comment to the same effect as mine, that the enemy would get the same and more of it."

    On 14th November 1940 the Luftwaffe attempted to create a firestorm in Coventry. It dropped 500 tons of high explosive, 30,000 incendiary bombs (the oil filled 'flammenbombe' and the phosphor/petroleum 'phosphorbrandbombe') as well as 50 parachute mines and 20 incendiary petroleum mines. The Luftwaffe knew that their incendiaries would burn for between 8 and 30 minutes but doors, roofs and windows needed to be blown in to create the draughts needed to sustain and spread the fires. The results were a success (unless you were in Coventry) and the destruction is well documented.

    The problem for the Germans, creating real fire storms, was the light loads the German bombers carried. They also had to 'shuttle bomb' returning to their bases to refuel and rearm which led to inevitable lulls during which fire fighting and other rescue efforts could be undertaken.

    Harris was a quick learner and noticed the flaws in the German method.

    "The Germans again and again missed their chance, as they did in the London Blitz of setting our cities ablaze by a concentrated attack. Coventry was adequately concentrated in point of space, but all the same there was little concentration in point of time."


    The concentration in space was due to navigational devices which would also target area 'Otto', the city of London, not the docks or other installations as some claim.

    On the night of 16/17 December 1940 the RAF sent a force of 134 bombers to Mannheim. For the first time the target was officially the heart of an urbanised area and not a specified 'military' target. A moral line had been crossed by both sides now. The raid was not very successful but the bombers did carry an unusually high proportion of the British 4lb incendiary magnesium 'sticks'.

    The British development of incendiary ordnance and navigational aids gathered pace. The ordnance was tested at the Building Research Department, near Watford, where German style buildings, complete with German furniture and furnishings were used to tailor the incendiaries to the buildings which they would be destroying.

    Lubeck was chosen for a practical experiment. It lay outside the range of the RAF's own navigational system 'Gee' but being on the coast it was considered findable. It was also an industrial city, training centre for U-Boat crews and its docks were the principle route for the importation of Swedish iron ore. More important to the RAF planners was the combustible nature of the medieval Altstadt. Harris wrote that it was.

    " More like a firelighter than a place of human habitation."

    Two waves of bombers dropped 160 tons of high explosive and 144 tons of incendiaries, including a new 30lb bomb containing a mixture of benzol and rubber, reckoned to cause fires over a distance ten metres from its point of impact. The results were devastating and well documented.

    Harris said of this raid.

    "The main object of the attack was to learn to what extent a first wave of aircraft could guide a second wave to the aiming point by starting a conflagration. I odered half an hour interval between the two waves in order to let the fires get a good hold before the second wave arrived."

    Harris noted that this technique led not only to target marking fires but increased the chaos in the target city as local fire brigades and those called in from elsewhere were hampered in their efforts by the attacks of a second and subsequent waves of bombers.

    This set Bomber Command firmly on a course that, via Hamburg, Kassel and others, would reach its apogee at Dresden.

    Steve
     
  4. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    #4 pbehn, May 7, 2014
    Last edited: May 7, 2014
    I believe the Coventry raid was aided by a guidance beam which improved concentration. As has been said not all cities were liable to a firestorm Hamburg was Berlin wasnt.

    To the original post Hiroshima wasnt a fire bombing it was nuclear
     
  5. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Wiki is missing a rather important aspect of this. The Germans attempted this starting in early WW1 with a Zeppelin equipped with special incendiary bombs wrapped in hemp. The purpose was to create such a storm. Later on even more complex bombs were stockpiled to burn a few cities down with massed attacks but was halted by the end of the war. There is an excellent special on this I believe on the Smithsonian Channel.
     
  6. wiking85

    wiking85 Well-Known Member

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    @viking: IIRC the 'Elektron' thermite incendiary bomb that was used in WW2 was developed for use in WW1 (August 1918). Apparently the first 1 ton bomb was also used in WW1.
    Elektron BombHistory Of Britain | History of Britain

    Now as to the point about the Germans lacking sufficient concentration in time, it wasn't solely due to the lack of payload, as the 2 tons of the HE111 and other loads of the Ju88 would be sufficient in the right numbers; however there was a distinct lack of bombers with sufficient range and payload to pull it off in July 1940 due to losses during the invasion of France. The Do17 was also in widespread service still, but with its very short range and limited payload, it was pretty much of limited use. After t he BoB things got real tight for the Luftwaffe; by mid-August there were a total of 960 twin engine bombers (He111s, Ju88s, Do17s) in all theaters, of which IIRC about 600 or so operational. Losses in the BoB reduced these numbers even further despite the 100+ bombers being delivered per month. So by the time the LW started the Blitz in October they had only a few hundred Ju88s and He111s left operational, though bomber units were worn down by the back to back campaigns of 1940. By the time the Blitz started their numbers went up again, but with lower quality personnel due to losses of veterans in France and the BoB. But the Blitz was effective from October through December, after which weather grounded most bombing from January-February when detachments were made for North Africa and soon even the Balkans, leaving fewer and fewer aircraft to bomb Britain.

    So the primary problem was the losses in the BoF and BoB so soon together sapping bomber strength and the presence of older bombers of limited capabilities for night bombing deep in Britain. The dive bombing choice for the Ju88 limited its utility and delayed production, which kept the Do17 in place and compromised the utility of the design before the A5 redesign that entered service after the BoB. For the Luftwaffe the primary problem in achieving firestorms was poor pre-war design choices, poor industrial mobilization, and a bad strategy after the fall of France. Had they preserved their twin engine bomber strength and started a night campaign in July instead of October, they would have saved some 500 twin engine bombers that would have been very helpful during the Blitz, plus a huge amount of wear and tear on surviving machines and crews. Let's also not forget fuel usage during the BoB either, which Germany could ill afford.

    800+ He111s and Ju88s would have been sufficient during the Blitz to achieve concentration in space and time, but they just weren't available in those numbers due to a variety of poor choices by LW leadership (Udet, Goering, Hitler, Jeschonnek, etc.). The German suggestion that the spread out attacks were to wear down morale is more likely justification due to the lack of sufficient bombers to actually mass for attacks, which was LW doctrine pre-war. It also didn't help that they spread out their attacks on multiple targets and didn't launch many 'heavy' raids, which already were pretty weak by anyone's standards after 1941 (counted as 100 tons or more dropped in a single night).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blitz#Bombing_raid_statistics
    Looking at the stats its clear that too much dispersion was used for bombing given the bomber numbers and too many little raids were launched. There were for instance only 8 'heavy' raids (>100 tons) on Liverpool from September 1940-May 1941 for a total of less than 2000 tons for the entire 9 month period, which was less than half of what was dropped on Dresden in 4 raids in 3 nights in February 1945.
     
  7. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #7 stona, May 7, 2014
    Last edited: May 7, 2014

    X-Great guided the Luftwaffe accurately to Coventry.

    Berlin was considered as a possible target for a devastating raid, with the intention of creating a fire storm. The idea of a series of raids by both the USAAF and RAF was first raised (under the code name Thunderclap) in the summer of 1944. It was expected to kill or injure 220,000 Berliners. In August the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) concluded that such an operation was not likely 'to achieve any worthwhile degree of success'.
    The JIC's report of January 1945 did look at such an operation again in the context of aiding the Soviet forces on the offensive in the east. It was time, the JIC thought, for major air strikes behind the Russian front.
    I don't have time or the will at the moment to go through the saga of target assignation. To cut a long story short there was a meeting of the Targets Committee on February 7th at the Air Ministry in Whitehall. The next day its conclusions were sent to SHAEF, Bomber Command and the U.S. Strategic Air Force Command. It declared.

    "The following targets have been selected for their importance in relation to the movement of evacuees from, and military forces to, the Eastern Front"

    Berlin was in first place, Dresden second and Chemnitz third.

    A raid on Berlin of the scale envisaged in 'Thunderclap' was not possible. It would have to be carried out over several days, both day and night. A committee headed by Sir Douglas Evill looked into the feasibility and concluded.

    "At this time of year it is most unlikely that the weather would be such as to allow concentrated bombing on four consecutive days and nights."

    Dresden was another matter and had the advantage in the eyes of some, notably Portal, of being "hitherto undamaged."

    Some imagine that Saxony's 'Florence on the Elbe' a city of some 750,000 inhabitants in one of the oldest established industrial regions of Europe, the seventh largest city in Germany, concerned itself only with harmless and cultural pursuits and the making of luxury goods and China, even in the midst of Hitler's 'Total War'.
    This is absolute nonsense. The 1944 handbook of the OKW's Weapon Office lists no fewer than 127 factories that have been assigned their own three letter manufacturing codes. An authority at the Dresden City Museum described this list as 'very incomplete'.

    The cities biggest single employer was Zeiss-Ikon (code dpv) and it was a long time since that company had contented itself with making cameras for home snap shots.

    In 1940 Dr Walther Schmidt, president of the Directorate of State Railways in Dresden described the railway industry as 'at the core of its being, so closely connected to the Wermacht'. The railways slogan was 'Rader Mussen Rollen fur den Sieg' (wheels must roll for victory). In 1939 (August and September) the Dresden directorate had laid on 15,000 trains for the invasion of Poland. 1945 was no different. The railway directorate itself recognised that the Hauptbahnhof, yards and areas to the north and south west, lined with industrial sites and warehousing might make a good target. One official noted that "by their size and location they represented a good target." A look at the Allies target maps confirm that he was correct.

    It is not for me to pass moral judgement on the concept of area bombing and the ensuing losses on both sides. But by the targeting criteria used by the Allies Dresden was certainly a 'valid' target. Had the means been available it would certainly have been devastated sooner.

    Steve
     
  8. s1chris

    s1chris Member

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    #8 s1chris, May 7, 2014
    Last edited: May 7, 2014
    Hello Guy's, I can chip in on the Coventry raid as I have lived in Coventry my entire life.

    The raid was most deffinatly a fire storm. The entire city centre was burnt to the ground including our Catherdral.
    The city centre was almoast entirely made of wood with very small narrow streets. There now stands no more than 20 original buildings as a result of the raid. Due to the layout of the city the fire did not spread out of the main centre. This is owed to the fact the city previously had a wall and as such no real join to the surrounding areas.

    Here is a few shots of the the Orginal Luftwaffe target map for the bombing of Coventry "operation Korn" -
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    As you can see from the map the raid wasnt entirely focused on the city centre.

    I live basically on target .13. This was the local coal mine. This area was targeted mainly with mines and in the street behind where I live now is a large gap in the housing where one was dropped and missed the coal mine.

    I believe wartime Britain played down the ferocity of the Coventry raid. For many years and to this day the question is asked as to why Coventry wasn't evacuated before the raid as Churchill himself had been made aware of the raid in advance due to Luftwaffe message interceptions. The opinion is that an evacuation if noticed by and reported back by Germans on the ground would have given away the fact we had intercepted and had the ability to decipher German communications.

    The raid on Coventry changed the way in which the RAF conducted it's raids from that point on. Just take a look at the Dresden raid which was conducted as a retaliation for the Coventry raid.
     
  9. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #9 stona, May 7, 2014
    Last edited: May 7, 2014
    Burning cities, or attempting to, is as old as war itself. Dresden itself was more or less burnt to the ground on July 19th 1760 by that well known flute playing friend of French philosophers and patron of the arts Frederick II of Prussia, later termed Frederick the Great.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  10. s1chris

    s1chris Member

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    In defence of the Luftwaffe the majority of weapons and munitions production was located in the centre of Coventry. The consequence of them trying to hit these targets was the firestorm and devestation of the area.
     
  11. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #11 stona, May 7, 2014
    Last edited: May 7, 2014
    The December 16/17 1940 raid on Mannheim was officially designated a revenge for the Coventry attack. The devastating raid on Dresden didn't take place until 13th February 1945 by which time many German towns and cities had been 'coventriert'.

    The Luftwaffe bombed Coventry 'on a beam'. Essentially the aircraft received a signal at the point when and where it should release it's bombs and this was done automatically. It was very accurate, bombs could be placed within an oval pattern a few hundred metres long and about one hundred metres wide as Coventry discovered.

    Steve
     
  12. s1chris

    s1chris Member

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    Ahh I have been misinformed although Dresden is widely spoken of as the retaliation raid locally.
    Thanks for correcting that Steve.

    Is Coventriert the German translation of Coventrated?

    Cheers Chris
     
  13. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    No worries and yes it is (though I think that's the other way around if you know what I mean, the Germans invented the word) :)

    Steve
     
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  14. wiking85

    wiking85 Well-Known Member

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    I think that was post war justification by either participants in the planning or apologist historians, when in fact the raid was much more about hitting a legitimate military target both in aid of their ally the Soviets but also as a warning/example (to prove their contribution via the air war) in their path about the power of allied strategic bombing...though this last part might be incidental rather than a specific reason for the raid.


    Yes. Goebbels used that phrase in propaganda.
     
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  15. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Retaliation is an emotive word. It was used to describe the Mannheim operation, but the word itself provokes arguments about who did what first. These are somewhat pointless. Both the RAF and Luftwaffe started the war with high minded intentions to limit their assaults to strictly military targets and both, very soon and for a variety of reasons, abandoned even the pretence of this. A series of moral lines were crossed by both sides leading to the targeting of an enemy's civilian population. The only nation to be reticent about admitting so was the USA.
    Whether a line was crossed at Guernica or Mannheim, Coventry or Dresden doesn't really matter. You might as well ask whether Alexander the Great committed some kind of moral outrage when he burnt Persepolis in 330 BC. Was that revenge for the Persians previously burning the Acropolis in Athens?
    Steve
     
  16. wiking85

    wiking85 Well-Known Member

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    Did the LW really go into the war with high minded ideas about city bombing? Perhaps in the West, but in Poland they went after civilians from day one; in the East in general the Germans were exceptionally brutal from the beginning, while they 'evolved' in the West.

    As a point of interest I've recently read that the supposed Stalingrad Firestorm actually never happened or was greatly exaggerated:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad#Attack_on_Stalingrad
     
  17. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

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    the thing i have a hard time understanding ( which i chalk it up to adolf being his own intel analyst and doing a crappy job at it )...is the germans had to know the RAF capabilities...the range, bomb load, and approx # of lancasters and other heavy bombers. in a " i will bomb your citys with He's and Do's and you bomb mine with lanc's" scenario i cant see how anyone thinks they would come out on top. you are relying on an airforce that is not accomplishing its mission in the BoB to defend your cities. i am not using hindsight...the logis doesnt make sense. i would like to know the rationale behind the thinking to embark on this kind of campaign. to me its is like playing checkers with floyd mayweather or julio ceasar chavez and constantly ending in a stalemate so in frustration decide to take a swing at them....now i can land a punch but thier capabilities far out match mine....it would be a really bad, bad move. and one i shouldnt do to begin with..
     
  18. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    Stona the point I was making was that not all cities are the same (obviously) Hamburg was like London made of more wood. Berlin was laid out with large boulevards (still is) which act as natural fire breaks, there were huge fires but not a firestorm as such.
     
  19. wiking85

    wiking85 Well-Known Member

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    Intelligence was severely lacking especially by the time the British heavies came online (not just Lancasters). By that time too the war was too deep to quit, the Holocaust had started, and there was no going back. Bombing British cities in 1942 and later was retaliation for British bombing (and a waste of effort IMHO), but the RAF wasn't going to stop because Germany did. In 1940-41 Hitler thought he was going to win, so did what he did with the knowledge he had at the time: BC was a joke in terms of numbers and accuracy, while losing heavily. Germany was on top, so Hitler thought he could get away with it; by 1942 and later the game changed, but it wasn't like Hitler could just quit and go home; he started a war of total annihilation and was going to have to play it out to the bitter end, because surrender meant death for him if he were lucky, probably prison torture otherwise (Hitler was deathly afraid of being paraded around Moscow in a cage, so he shot himself).
     
  20. Hop

    Hop Member

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    The Luftwaffe started the mass bombing of British cities in September 1940. At the time Bomber Command was much weaker than the Luftwaffe. Their best bomber was the Wellington, which was similar in capabilities to the He 111.

    In the 9 months of the Blitz the Luftwaffe dropped about 45,000 tons on Britain and killed about 43,000 civilians.

    Bomber Command wasn't capable of anything like the same sort of effort until 1942. BC tons of bombs dropped:

    1940 - 13,000
    1941 - 32,000
    1942 - 46,000

    German civilian casualties:

    1940 - 975
    1941 - 2,785
    1942 - 4,327

    It wasn't until 1943 that Bomber Command could do to a German city what the Luftwaffe had done to the UK in 1940.
     
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